True Greatness Restored In Travel

I once had the privilege of attending a concert of the famed trumpeter Miles Davis. Hearing him play his “cool jazz” live seemed to be sufficient reason to enjoy the moment then, but I soon realized that his oblivious attention to the audience became the main source of my entertainment. Aloofly turning his back to the seats beyond to focus intently on his own interpretations for each selection, I reviled Miles that night as an arrogantly unappreciative performer. Finishing this brilliantly selfish performance, Miles walked nonchalantly off the stage without returning for the expected post-concert encore. I now realize that Miles did not need to prove his greatness to anyone that night nor did he need the attention of others to satisfy his ego. What factors then did elevate his status to greatness beyond the expected norm?

I spent fifteen years attempting to teach my skill-challenged college students in South Florida to pursue high standards of reading and writing performance. Unfortunately, expectations of success systemwide typically centered around the safe prospect of simply passing the class as a demonstration of minimal competency. Continuing my lifetime commitment to excellence amidst this haunting past of systemic mediocrity, I am attempting to implement three (3) ideas from my teaching days that I perceive to represent greatness through the act of travel.

1. Focus On The Present To Overcome Outside Distraction

As I recall my best teaching performances in college, poetry comes to mind. Immersing my students in the need to read for both fact and emotion, we slowly read each line of a stanza in class. By concentrating on being “in the zone” of present time then, they improved their focus for concentration on the academic task at hand and often learned lessons critical to their their own self understanding. In travel, I have similarly attempted to focus on the “now” experience of my surroundings rather than directing my attention to the uncertain fate at my intended destination. A brief glance of a snowy mountain or a casual conversation with a stranger in transit would stir my curiosity to better myself as a person and gain useful knowledge for future travel.

2. Let Intuition Guide My Projected Path.

The regimented routine of teaching often dictated rigid adherence to a clearly defined lesson plan. Over-reliance on tightly managed time schedules and heavily scripted teacher editions often limited my ability to make changes to lesson content when it appeared my students were not absorbing the material presented. The intuition of my Plan B psyche became my norm then as I frequently found classical music and You Tube videos to be an effective, non-traditional learning medium. I similarly have road tripped across the U.S., accompanied by a massive amount of map/travel guide information and my vehicle’s GPS directional guidance system for planning my intended itinerary of travel. There are frequent occasions, however, when I have intuitively felt the need the need to get off the Interstate highway to blindly explore countryside locations in more detail. Traveling Route 66 in the West and U.S. 61 along the Mississippi River have revealed meaningful insights about the history of this country that my research had not mentioned.

3. The Basics Propel Higher Functioning Abilities

In my youth, I learned the meaning of the phrase, ” You cannot squeeze blood out of a turnip.” If a student had not learned fundamental basics of Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension in high school, then there was a viable purpose for them to take my college reading class. In my 16 week semester, I systematically approached the instruction of each skill as a building block to the next one. By the end of the course, students who were initially diagnosed at a reading level of 6th grade were now able to function competently with academic reading tasks at the college level. Similarly, I have recently found that my attempt to sustain a lifestyle of world traveler would require me to build knowledge of deep, cultural values and second language settings to better prepare me for packing wisely, maximizing safety and spending frugally in my future globetrotting endeavors. I have additionally refrained from making comments about race, politics, and religion on Facebook/Twitter without sufficient background information of fact.

It is clear then that a true artist does not need the gratifications of others to exhibit greatness of craft. To remain relevant to the present would also skirt the real meaning of being brilliant. In a world of “what have you done for me lately”, one must set their own high standards of excellence in spite of the inducement to follow the expected road to success

5 thoughts on “True Greatness Restored In Travel

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  1. Thank you for this post. You made me really think deeply this morning. As I read your blog I could totally relate to your thoughts and feelings and reflect on my own life and understand your sentiments and why you feel as you do. Obviously, as a writing teacher, and someone who now in retirement creates a poetry curriculum, I vividly remember standing up in front of a classroom and helping students try to feel and understand emotion to “get into the zone”, not only in poetry, but in prose as well.
    In fact.while working on my masters, I once wrote an entire essay on how Method acting and dramatic improvisation was my guide to teaching writing. I elaborated on how Stanislavski’s book, “An Actor Prepares” (which was my bible in college) as I studied theatre and walked upon the stage to emote Shakespeare and go from the love-struck Juliet to the madness of Lady Macbeth, I realized that appreciating poetry and good writing was no different from experiencing what an actor feels as he/she becomes a character and learns how to bring that person to life. Being “in the zone” is what all creative artists are about and actually, is what life is about. Feeling everything around you and using all of your senses makes life worth living. No matter how large or how small one’s life experiences are. (I mean think of the Bronte sisters and their limited lives and yet Kathy and Heathcliff have lived on in my heart since I was 14 and I am 67 now.)
    Your ability to help your students understand that being in the zone is exactly what I attempted to do as well and in the end it is each student’s experience in relating their own personal sensory images of life, words, emotions etc. that helps them appreciate the beauty and pleasure in knowledge. You intuitively understood that. That is what defines the difference between good teachers and great teachers.
    Ruth and I often discussed this. Understanding and meeting the needs of our students and their capabilities and letting them experience as much as possible whether they were brilliant or challenged, allowed them to drink in the sensory aspect of a lesson. Helping them achieve to the best of their ability… Perhaps that is why we three were successful in our jobs as educators. That and a desire to help children find the joy in learning.
    To relate this to Miles Davis was a beautiful metaphor and especially meaning to me. Thank you for giving me that epiphany this morning.
    As someone who, in my youth was in a rock band, and used music to express my inner most thoughts and feelings you could not have stated it better. Not only through the guitar, but also through the poetic form of words, a young Lesley wrote lyrics to go along with the melodies I played. You sure hit the nail on the head! (And keep in mind; I am in no way comparing my meager musical talent to those of the great Miles Davis. Just someone one who can relate to musicians.)

    Musicians play for their OWN enjoyment. They do it because they must! Just like poets and writers must write. It is in their soul. And so while Davis’ jazz sound was entertainment to some, to others it was like melted butter on top of that perfectly baked warm muffin… but to Miles, it was bits and pieces of his soul seeping out and circling the room and to those around him lucky enough to feel it, he gave them a little dose of his inner spirit.
    Yes,He performed for himself. Musicians may need money to eat and so they take jobs. But ultimately, once the music begins… it is otherworldly and is all about themselves and no one else. So he did not have to face his audience. An actor faces the audience simply because his or her voice cannot project unless it can be heard…. but while the words are being said there is a three dimensional being inside of the performer who has come to life.Words that were written on a page and magically transform into a real human being. And that is what happens to any performer. The entertainer and his entertainment takes on a life of its own. Just as we the teachers, hope our students did the same thing. We hoped that they took the knowledge and skills we gave them and turned it into something in their own lives. Because once competency was achieved, our wish was that a spark of greatness was stimulated and continued to grow…. long after they left our classroom.
    Thank you for inspiring me this hazy morning… You touched my soul.


  2. sometimes we set too high standards and unattainable heights for ourselves…..wonder if in the end if it lifts us to another level or just another step before real fulfillment…enjoyed reading your methodology of thought and process.


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